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How brands and agencies can navigate the year ahead

How brands and agencies can navigate the year ahead
How brands and agencies can navigate the year ahead

By Jonathan Emmins, Founder of Amplify.  As we navigate yet another national lockdown, now seems a good time to remind ourselves that it’s possible for brands and their marketing agencies to turn seemingly insurmountable limitations into opportunities.

2020 was a rollercoaster ride for us all. A big part of my agency’s remit is to create live events for brands. So, after starting the year brightly at Amplify, as we entered Q2 we were hit with a series of postponements and cancellations that quickly painted a different picture for us and our clients. 

In the face of these challenges, we’ve all had to adapt. With live events largely off the table, we tried to approach the situation as an opportunity to liberate ourselves from physical-first thinking, expedite long overdue changes and avoid the ‘inertia of success’. Brands and agencies, whether by choice or necessity, have had to be creatively brave in the face of adversity. As audiences around the world have become more open to positive change, those who are embracing their entrepreneurial spirit and defining this era with new thinking are the ones reaping the benefits.

While traditional live events aren’t possible, we are focussing on continuing to push the business forward in other ways, expanding into new areas and bolstering our creative and strategic capabilities through newer departments like content, broadcast, innovation and creative technology.

Thanks to this approach, throughout 2020 we continued to pioneer content-driven brand experiences, ending the year on a high with a truly global launch experience for PlayStation 5. We won 22 new clients and picked up awards along the way, but most importantly, we stayed together as an agency, protecting our people and our culture through the upheaval. 

We were fortunate to end the year in a strong position that sees us going into 2021 with renewed optimism. While what lies ahead continues to be unpredictable, there are principles brands and agencies can employ to turn limitations into creative and commercial opportunity.

Put people first

Brands, agencies and the campaigns they create all rely on engagement and participation. 

Whether internal or external, it’s essential to take a people-first approach that is considerate of personal journeys and audiences’ ever-evolving priorities. Though Covid-19 is a globally shared experience, responses to the situation differ greatly. The pandemic has changed how people behave, affecting every aspect of our lives. We are processing things at different speeds, in different ways – and as restrictions flip flop, so do our emotions. While some look to embrace life’s pleasures, bowing to consumerist urges, others become more selective, guided by a heightened awareness of the wider impact of their choices.

Moving into 2021, the pandemic will continue to affect the way we interact with brands, creating long-lasting new behaviours that won’t simply disappear. It’s important that we don’t make assumptions about what people want or need, instead creating strategies and campaigns built on two-way dialogues, working collaboratively with consumers as much as colleagues.

Lead from the Front

As we saw throughout 2020, brands that took advantage of the world going quiet by doing exactly the opposite saw a huge uptake in share of voice. As marketing budgets were revised, brands that were brave and agile enough to adapt quickly with culturally relevant work, like Brewdog, were able to reap the rewards. 

The same is true for agencies, where periods of quiet allow space to increase share of voice. Throughout the upheaval, Amplify was confident, visible and vocal, building existing relationships as well as cultivating new ones. The focus was on providing calm, reassuring and pragmatic insight and ideas for clients and the wider industry. Through thought leadership, webinars and mentoring with a focus on functionality, we built a pertinent presence throughout the year that will continue in 2021.

Break the Format

In the face of limitation, brands and agencies need to be creatively brave and embrace innovation. Working within restrictions can be creatively freeing, allowing us to look beyond the traditional models and create wider-reaching, digitally-driven experiences open to all. An opportunity to challenge old, restrictive formats and assumptions. 

Forced into new ways of living and working, audiences are more open to new experiences than ever before. While screen fatigue has been well documented, the issue is less with devices and technology than it is with repetitive, uninspiring content. As our lives are lived out online, we want quality entertainment that breaks the norm. Standout experiences like Travis Scott x Fornite or Dua Lipa’s Studio 2054 set a high benchmark for universally accessible, entertainment-led digital experiences that really play to their platforms.

Brands and agencies can cater to this appetite for inspiration with similarly adventurous formats, quality content, an emphasis on interactivity and user-friendly execution that will serve long past the pandemic.

Think locally, share globally

I’ve always believed in creating experiences that naturally generate content, allowing us to take something that is experienced by few but shared with many. In our socially distanced world, this thinking is central to everything we do. Investing in the expansion of our content and broadcast team has allowed us to activate locally but share the experience globally. The experience of this pandemic has emphasised the importance of localised ‘bubble’ communities as much as it has global connectivity, with geographically diverse audiences eager to engage with inspiring local stories and experiences.

Act with purpose

In the face of adversity and societal upheaval, audiences increasingly look for brands and companies to act with purpose. Those that make a difference are expected to take action, donating time, resources and expertise to long-lasting visions that benefit all. As we’ve seen throughout 2020, brands that step in to provide support don’t just stand to gain share of voice, they can foster genuine advocacy by proving their commitment to communities and their culture. This is true of brands like Dr. Martens that helped support emerging creators and their wider communities by providing opportunities and financial support to those affected by the pandemic as part of the ‘Dr. Martens Presents’ platform.

Stay agile 

Brand experience will continue to be an effective way to engage audiences in 2021 and beyond. Our need to interact and break up the mundanity of lockdown is growing, necessitating the need for new entertainment and opportunities to learn, feel inspired and escape. 

With no clear end in sight, brands can promote joy and togetherness, helping their audiences navigate testing times. Likewise, we need to be ready to act fast when we reach the other side. While audiences will differ in how they re-integrate, there will be a strong urge to reconnect IRL. And brands need to be ready to provide. 

Deprived of physical experiences for over a year, the demand for experience will reach record levels. With one eye on the Covid-free future, those that move first to provide an outlet stand to win big. As restrictions fluctuate, we need to stay agile, ready to seize the opportunity and meet ever evolving audience needs.

About the Author:

Jonathan Emmins is the Founder of Amplify
Jonathan Emmins is the Founder of Amplify

Jonathan Emmins is the Founder of Amplify: a brand experience agency that works with some of the world’s most respected companies, including adidas, Airbnb, Dr Martens, Google, PlayStation and Spotify. Amplify’s highly respected client list, project output and company culture has won many of the marketing industry’s top awards, including Campaign Magazine’s ‘Brand Experience Agency of the Decade’ accolade.  

Socials: https://www.instagram.com/weareamplify/ & https://www.linkedin.com/company/weareamplify/